CPA Exam Pass Rates
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Do you aspire to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)? The CPA Exam is widely recognized for its difficulty and is regarded as one of the toughest professional exams. Passing the CPA Exam takes extensive study, consistent practice, and unwavering dedication to achieve a high score.
In 2023, we witnessed impressive performances in the four categories based on the scores up until Q3. For example, the pass rates for REG are more than 59%. The pass rates for AUD, BEC, and FAR are approximately 47%, 57%, and 43%, respectively.
What are the 2023 CPA Exam Pass Rates?
After each testing window, the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) publishes the overall pass rate percentages for the CPA Exam. Below is a breakdown of 2023’s quarterly CPA Exam pass rates by section. This information helps us to understand how CPA Exam changes affect applicant performance. Here is how candidates have performed on the CPA Exam in 2023:
Note: 2023 Q4 pass rates are not yet released.
CPA Exam Pass Rates by Year
The cumulative pass rate of the CPA Exam has been around 50% for the last three years. The cumulative pass rate of the CPA Exam has been around 50% for the last three years. 2021, 2022, and 2023 have improved pass rates among all sections of the CPA Exam.
The above pass rates provide a brief idea about the CPA Exam success rates over time with some insight on which exams are consistently difficult to pass versus easier to pass.
Considering FAR as the toughest exam section, many students prepare for it first, ignoring the other sections. But choosing to study for the most difficult or the easiest section first may not always be the most beneficial approach. As you consider your CPA Exam study schedule and the section you want to complete first, be sure to consider the time that each section will require to successfully pass the first time.
CPA Exam Pass Rates By Section
Auditing & Attestation (AUD) CPA Exam Pass Rates
In 2022, the AUD section of the CPA Exam had the second-lowest pass rate among the four sections of the CPA Exam. While the material within the Auditing Exam contains very fundamental concepts, students allege that the questions on the exam are confusing, mainly because there could be more than one correct answer to each problem. While the AUD Exam is more theory-based in its questions, FAR and REG require more memorization from candidates.
Business Environment & Concepts (BEC) CPA Exam Pass Rates
If you haven't passed the BEC Exam before 2023, you must pass one of the three Discipline sections.
The three disciplines are:
- Business Analysis and Reporting (BAR)
- Information Systems and Controls (ISC)
- Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP)
Historically, the average pass rate of BEC was the highest among all four exam sections. One explanation for the higher BEC pass rates could be that candidates generally choose to sit for this section of the exam last, narrowing the pool of candidates to those who have already successfully passed the other parts of the exam.
Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR) CPA Exam Pass Rates
Candidates we’ve surveyed tend to say that Financial Accounting and Reporting is the most difficult section of the CPA Exam. It has the lowest passing rate out of the four sections consistently for a long time. This is likely due to the large volume of information in the FAR section, along with the need to fully understand the concepts involved, instead of simply using memorization. FAR is a comprehensive section that deals with financial management, government accounting, fund accounting, etc.
Regulation (REG) CPA Exam Pass Rates
Students find the Regulation portion of the CPA Exam to be difficult to study because of the sheer amount of non-accounting information covered in the exam, as it incorporates tax law and business law. It has the second-highest pass rate after BEC in 2023.
The growing success rate of the CPA Exam does not fully depend on the exam’s difficulty level. Success on the exam is dependent upon the preparedness of the CPA candidate, including the study material used, how their time was managed, and how much support they received throughout their CPA journey.
CPA Exam Pass Rates by Age and Graduation Date
It may sound surprising, but the CPA Exam pass rate is partially influenced by the age of the candidates as well as when they graduated. According to NASBA’s 2019 CPA Exam Test Results, recent graduates score a lot better than older graduates. The highest pass rates belong to those younger than 22 at 68.4%. Candidates aged 35 and older had the lowest pass rate of 37.1%. Among them, the male candidate pass rate is 39.3%, and for females, the pass rate stands at 35.7%. The average pass rate difference between recent graduates and candidates who graduated a few years ago is almost 20%.
Does It Matter When You Graduated?
According to our CPA experts, candidates who graduated years ago are further removed from past study habits and accounting materials. Therefore, it might take extra effort on their part to get back into a regular study routine. Conversely, CPA candidates who recently graduated might find it easier to jump into preparing for the CPA Exam and have better memory recall of certain accounting concepts.
However, it is important to note that age differences do not mean that older candidates shouldn’t sit for the CPA Exam. Data-driven study technology, impactful study material, and proper time management will help any older candidate pass the CPA Exam.
Why Are CPA Exam Pass Rates Higher In Q2 And Q3?
CPA Exam pass rates depend on a lot of factors, which include the difficulty level of the exam, and the preparedness of the candidates. However, when exactly you sit for the exam can largely influence your scores.
Q1 is an exceptionally busy season for tax accountants and working professionals, who might find it difficult to maintain a balance between studies and work. You must also consider the fact that Q1 comes right after the Q4 holiday season. The Q4 associated holidays and the recovery of those holidays could possibly affect the study schedules for many CPA candidates. Therefore, these two quarters have relatively lower pass rates.
Q2 is typically the time that college graduates are preparing to graduate from their academic institutions. They are in a study mindset, so Q2 candidates usually score well on the exam. Q3 allows candidates the entire summer to study for the exam. So, the passing rates of Q3 have been consistently high for years. This is a major reason why Q2 & Q3 have higher pass rates and are the best time to sit for the CPA exam.
CPA Exam Pass Rates by University
The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) releases reports on the top universities that have accounting programs. The report also contains the average CPA Exam pass rates by these top universities based on the first-time candidates. Here is the list of top 10 programs with the highest CPA Exam Pass Rates:
|Accounting Programs at Top 10 Universities
|2021 CPA Exam Pass Rate
|University of Texas at Austin
|Brigham Young University
|Wake Forest University
|University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
|University of Florida
|University of Virginia
|Texas A&M University
|University of Wisconsin-Madison
Why Is the CPA Exam So Hard?
The CPA Exam is considered by many CPA candidates as very difficult to pass. The reason the CPA Exam is considered so challenging is because of the complexity of topics covered in the four sections of the exam. Each section of the exam has several question types and topics that cover a variety of accounting concepts. Answering the questions correctly requires critical thinking and higher-order skills -- similar to what is required of newly licensed CPAs (nlCPAs).
Your CPA Exam score will also depend on your study schedule and amount of preparation. In addition, the AICPA updates the CPA Exam every few years. They recently released the revised CPA Exam Blueprints that will go into effect in January 2024. Whether taking the current or future CPA Exam, candidates should consult the blueprint that matches the version of the exam that they are taking to ensure proper preparation.